Friday, September 30, 2011

Confused

OK, OK  for those who know me well, my being confused is not exactly a news flash.  As my dad used to say about ten times a day, "Boy, you ain't right."  Well, things haven't changed and I'm sure my dad, mom, brothers and sisters sitting or standing or in some form of repose (what do they do in heaven?) are up there looking down at me and still shaking their heads.

Many people, throughout the course of my stay on this planet, for no better reason than to explain my actions, have called me complicated.  "Oh, yes, Ed, well, you can't really say he's...er...well...not exactly crazy or, er...stupid, I mean he did graduate elementary school - twice.   He's certainly not sophisticated or well-rounded...well, except for his shoulders.  I guess you could call him a loyal friend, but his loyalty kind of borders on infringement.  He really doesn't shine in any certain activities; in fact I can't think of any outstanding qualities about him--let' just say he's...hmm, what's the word that won't hurt his feeling?  I got it, complicated.

Yeah, thanks a lot.  Even I can see through that one.  My niece, when seven-- her not me -- asked me if I was complicated.  Before answering, I asked "Who said I was?"  She replied, "Everyone."  This did not help my ego.  It did not bolster my self-esteem.  I don't think I'm complicated, but I am confused.  You may ask what confuses me.  I wouldn't dream of  running down my whole list, but to satisfy your curiosity, let me throw out a few tidbits.  Notice how I turned the onus on you and rid myself of responsibility?  Since you asked, I'll tell you -- a basic type of switcheroo.  This way I'm not forcing you to read on; you asked for it.

I got an email yesterday morning about "Being tired."  It was attributed to Bill Cosby and supposedly he's tired of people not working, Muslims who are killing innocent people yet proposing Islam is a religion of peace and brotherhood, distributing wealth from the rich to the poor, entertainers and sports figures making gobs of money and still complaining, etc.

Yesterday afternoon I received a second email with the same text, but this one was attributed to Robert Hall.  There was a guy with the same name at myhigh school  He supposedly ran off with one of the teachers.  I think she taught sex education.  The only other Robert Hall I remember was a name on a chain of men's stores.  So we have Cosby vs. Hall.  I'm confused.

In various denominations preaching the word of God, why do we have black churches and white churches?  I'm confused.

Why do we have a Congress that has to rush into special sessions to vote for money to keep our government operating.  This is a fundamental responsibility of Congress.  This is A of the A,B,Cs.  While on the subject of Congress, why are we voting in so many criminals, men of low morals, and lawyers.  The way I look at it, lawyers direct the flow of this country.  They make the laws, enforce the law by prosecution, judge outcomes and if you are passionate enough and have untold bucks to take your case to the Supreme Court, guess who you're pleading your case to? 

Our forefathers intended citizens to serve Congress for a short period and then go back home to tend their crops, shoe the horses, still some whiskey, whatever.  The problem was a lot of these guys were students of law.  Through the last two centuries our lawyers have converted Congress into small kingdoms over witch they reign.  They are not subject to the same laws we are.  They enjoy special privileges  past czars would have loved.  Inside the beltway around our capitol, life is not the same.  These clowns don't work for the people; their motivation is self promotion.  If something gets done that actually helps the populous, it's because it benefitted some politician.  If you haven't already guessed, I'm in favor of term limits.  Why did we let this happen?  I'm confused.

Why doesn't glue stick to the inside of the bottle?  Why is the third hand on a watch called the second hand?  I'm confused.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Spiritualism vs.Religion

The other day on Facebook I saw a question posed by a minister of the church I belong to.  The question dealt with the difference between spiritualism and religion. I shot back a quick and succinct answer--"Spiritualism refers to one's relationship to God and religion is a relationship to man."

This, of course, got me thinking about myself. I am a very spiritual soul but not so religious anymore. This is surprising because I grew up in my church. As a youngster, I had so many perfect attendance pins on my Sunday "go to meetin'" sport coat, I could barely hoist the garment to put it on. I mean it was so heavy in the front, everyone in my church thought I had spinal curvature. In my teens I presided over our youth group and the district youth group. In my twenties, I taught Sunday school, served on church committees and counseled teens. I began college with the idea of becoming a minister.

So I grew up totally immersed in my religion learning God is love and we should turn the other cheek, help thy neighbor, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, etc. Hey, sounded good to me. When I graduated college and stuck my nose into the real world, things changed. I quickly realized my training in church didn't prepare me for the business world. Now everything was about "getting ahead" and to do so meant not helping your fellow man but stepping on him. The new mantra became reaching for the top, getting rich.

Wait a minute, didn't the Bible tell me a rich man had about the same chance of going to heaven as a camel passing through the eye of a needle? Although I'm not too brainy, even I thought that looked like a pretty hard act to pull off. So stepping on other's toes, attaining wealth and hoarding it, all of which were just the opposite of what I learned in church, were, instead of getting me into heaven, now keeping me out--according to the Bible. Hmm. So why am I working so hard?  Maybe churches should drop Bible study and replace it with "How to Succeed in Business 101" and give up the camel/needle thing. So what was I to think--maybe we should replace capitalism with socialism?  Sounded pretty drastic to me.

In spite of myself, my career flourished and I reached a position that allowed me to travel world-wide. Traveling, seeing other cultures, observing different lifestyles is an education all its own. I concluded governments are different--but not people. I discovered varying religions preached basically similar tenets. So why has religion been the source of so many deaths? Remember the Middle Ages and the Crusades or how about the Spanish Inquisition? How about today's terrorists fighting the jihad or holy war. So what's the deal? Let's look at my shortened version of religious history.

Unless you are an atheist, you believe in a super power, supreme being, an Almighty. We may call him Allah or God or whatever, but most individuals on this planet believe in Him. Our belief in Him is real and our relationship to Him is spiritual. He's the one who created the universe and this globe we inhabit. There are different versions on how He did this, but in the long run, does it really matter?

Next He creates man and man conjures up this thing called religion. It grows from tribal rituals invented by man into organized entities also developed by man. Men pen letters about stories others have told and these letters become a Judao-Christian Bible or a Muslim Koran or a Buddhist Tipitaka. Then men make church laws to be adhered to and if you don't, watch your back. Ask the girls in Salem. Then this group of men differ with another group and we have man-made crusades and inquisitions. We have young men strapping bombs to their bodies and blowing up themselves and others who have been declared enemies of their religion. Did God really want this? I suggest no way. Religion was created by man and man has used it for his own purposes.

Did God say take the money and, instead of helping the less fortunate, build big temples, mosques, churches to glorify Him? Why is the richest institution in the world a church? Poor believers all over the world sacrifice to give to the rich church. Doesn't this seem a little convoluted?

How come the church tolerates and covers up for the Jim Swaggarts and Jim Bakers or the priests who defile God by actions with young boys? Boy, those are spiritual leaders. What do we say? Holy Crap? What about all of us who attend a religious service once a week and go our merry way the remainder of the week? How many of us never investigated which religion we thought would make us more spiritual but just joined because our parents belonged? It's sort of like joining a political party when you turn voting age.

What about the politics of religion? I'm not even going there.

I don't attend church regularly anymore. Do I miss it? I miss the trappings like the organ music and hymns but not the religion. I have been accused of losing faith. No, I am deeply faithful...to God. When I'm communing with nature or saying my prayers, I feel more spiritual than sitting in a pew. Will I attend church again? Yes, but I'll probably feel like a hypocrite.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Esther

A couple of weeks ago I penned a birthday poem for one of Gal Friday’s favorite relatives. This lady, named Esther, is a single parent who lives in a fashionable apartment on the upper west side in New York City and epitomizes the modern, free-spirited working girl. Taking advantage of most everything the megalopolis offers, she dines in fine restaurants, attends concerts and shows, takes walks in Central Park, visits museums and entertains guests. Being so active, I often wonder how she has enough time and stamina to perform her job as a receptionist for a business management company in the telecommunications industry.

My last conversation with Esther left me somewhat confused when she mentioned the possibility of quitting her job. Well, she didn’t actually say quitting her job--she’s too refined for that; instead she said taking “early retirement.” “Early retirement” has a totally different meaning to her than the rest of us. Of course, I’m not positive but I have an inkling that living her lifestyle in NYC is rather expensive, damn expensive. So how can she manage to not be gainfully employed and continue her status quo? I asked Gal Friday and she mumbled something about Esther having enough savings to live off--at least for awhile. Being the suspicious writer, I can’t help but imagine something dark and mysterious in her past.

The last time Gal Friday tied me in our mobility van and drove me to the city to see Esther, I practiced singing old Broadway tunes and such because Esther has a penchant for bursting out in these types of songs and she loves me to accompany her. I don’t warble well, but I know she appreciates my following her lead as best I can. It surprises me she knows the lyrics to some old tunes because she’s such a vibrant New Age woman.

Esther knows  fashion. Creating her own sophisticated yet conservative style, she always looks so glamorous. Her knowledge of fabrics and their proper applications astound me. She can detect clothing quality, or the absence of it, in a New York moment. She’s the type of woman, when stepping out of a taxi or entering a restaurant, people notice; heads turn.

I’m not sure what Esther’s politics are, but she sure stays current on all local, national and world events. She can astutely discuss politics with anyone and not just recent happenings. Her knowledge of 20th Century NYC history is voluminous and most interesting. When talking about this favorite subject, she gets so intense she makes you believe she lived it.

Because Esther is, not only a family favorite, but also a simply outstanding individual, Gal Friday insisted I include my birthday poem to her. So here it is. By the way, did I mention Esther is Gal Friday’s aunt who is now 94 years young?

Happy Birthday, Aunt Esther

In Flanders Fields
Doughboys in mourn
The world was at war
When Esther was born

Neighbors smiled
On the Lower East Side
Benjamin and Sarah
Their hearts filled with pride

Three years before
Prohibition started
When bullets flew
And people darted

Before the Empire State
To watch was so thrilling
102 stories
The world’s tallest building

Before Rockefeller Center
John Junior’s plan
Year 1930
When construction began

Preceding Esther
Came visits from stork
Each one a male
Joyous cries in New York

She loved her brothers
Who totaled five
But sometimes wondered
If she’d survive

Their memories remain
In mind and heart
A love so strong
To never depart

First came Jules
Then came Moe
Next came Phil
The last was Joe

'Tween Phil and Joe
Sarah did cram
A small baby boy
By the name of Sam

A special bond
For this brother
A little stronger
Than any other

Years have passed
And so have they
But this lady knows
That is God’s way

Enriched by “Greenie”
They sold candy
Showing the line
She was a dandy

Independent still
She harbors no gloom
As feisty now
As first pulled from the womb

So much experience
She claims a wealth
She’s a history book
All by herself

She’s seen it all
Time flew too soon
From horse and buggies
To a man on the moon

We all love her
At year 94
And look forward joyously
To many more

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Internet

Yes, yes, the Internet.  Out of all the inventions in my lifetime, including  television, the Internet has changed my life more than anything else.  Don't get me wrong. I'm not degrading  placing a man on the moon, cell phones that do everything but clean your toilet, or even the electric toothbrush,but nothing else has affected my daily living as much as that incredibly mystifying, unfathomable, amorphous form of communication called the Internet.

We take for granted "www," but stop and think of what it means - world wide web.  We thought TV made our world smaller but consider the web.  I'm sure glad Al Gore came up with this little idea.  We can see, hear and talk with anybody in any place on this planet,  if they have the right software and hardware.  Hardware used to be a store full of tools.  Our language has changed; web was something spiders weaved or that small piece of leather in a baseball glove. Our breadth of knowledge has increased. Our understanding of  other cultures is now more focused.  So this is all great, right?

As I mentioned, the Internet now dictates how my day is spent.  After being helped out of bed, one of the first actions of my day is turning on my computer.  This is before shaving, breakfast or brushing my remaining tooth -- the reason Gal Friday refers to me as "Fang".  One may wonder why I don't get upset by this dubious moniker but it's better than a lot of other things she calls me.  I check out my Inbox, Facebook, Twitter, my blog for comments and then I'm ready for my first nap.  Sometimes I miss breakfast.

It's rather amusing learning about all the correct variables in life like what to eat, what exercise is best for you, what car to buy, how to build a bomb -- you know simple activities of daily living.  But the next day can be a little confusing when you receive information contradicting yesterday's pearls of wisdom.

As a writer with a pea-size brain, I have to rely on the Internet for much of my research.  This can get real interesting.  Did you ever feel like a rat in a maze?  There is so much conflicting information on the web you begin to doubt it all.  I try to determine the validity of information by using fact-finding sites, but then I read on the Internet they aren't truly factual, but lean to certain points of view.  And how can politicians quote the same statistics and come out with dfferent numbers?  If it's on the ole "www," it's possible -- anything is possible.

I fought against buying a computer for years, but when I finally went "on line", I quickly realized I had struck gold.  I was like a naive kid checking out all kinds of web sites, some I'm too embarassed to mention.  I couldn't believe all this information was at my rigid digits.  Then I discovered email. And then came spam and hackers.

I recive 30 to 50 emails a day; some are humorous, some informative, but most are pretty much a waste of time.  Here's my conundrum; I can't resist looking at every email in hopes the sender is transmitting something worth reading like getting a personal letter delivered by our postal service.  You do remember letters, don't you?  Try to remember 'cause the old US Post Office isn't going to be around much longer.  Instead I'm inundated with recycled jokes, pictures of naked women, religious musings and political tripe.  Of course, I also get a few requests to send money to some poor shmuck  in Africa or the Middle East who will then send me a couple of million for my effort.

My problem is because I read each email, I spend countless hours at my computer instead of doing something constructive -- like napping.  So email can be a heartwarming friend or a time-stealing foe.  Hey, that's just like the Internet.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Killer Nashville - 2

Well, Gal Friday did it again.  This time she outdid herself.  She packed the van, directed me in, tied me down, headed the nose southwest and put the pedal to the metal.  We left Delaware at 4:30 AM.  Did you get that?  That's the time we left.  We went to bed at 1 AM.  AM means morning.  4:30 AM is when I used to drag myself home from an "evening of enjoyment."  4:30 AM used to be part of my night--not my morning. Maybe I should say "mourning." Egad, my life has flipped over.

We left DE and drove to my daughter's in the Greensboro area of North Carolina where we stayed for two wonderful days.  We loved the time spent with her family.  Heading farther west, we hit the pavement again and drove to Nashville, TN for the writer's conference.  After the conference, we headed for Tellico Village, TN to spend a couple of days with old friends.  Next came Raleigh, NC to choose stone for the new house and then to Edenton to meet with our builder.  The following day we drove to Elizabeth City, NC to select flooring and tile.  Now did we stay overnight to rest and drive back to DE the next day?  Oh no, when Gal Friday sets that imaginary chauffeur's cap atop her head, she doesn't stop for bathroom breaks much less rest periods.  She did slip in a little nap, but unfortunately it was while she drove.  That constituted a little "white knuckle" time for me.  This journey took 10 days and covered 2,000 miles.  It took us two days of sleep to recover.

Now for the "Killer Nashville" writers' conference AKA three days of intense terror.  The conference was held at a five-star hotel.  I didn't understand why it garnered such a high rating.  The rooms were nice, but not more so than most average chains we stay at.  Leaving our room on the seventh floor for the conference area reminded me of a treasure hunt.  We had to take an elevator to the second floor, cross a route through the parking garage and then take another elevator back up to the sixth floor.  I didn't consider this too high class.  Of course one main reason for a five-star tribute is the hotel's food.  The menu seemed the same for lunch and dinner.  The cuisine approached an attempt at sophisticated Continental fare with names I couldn't pronounce.  Basically it offered pasta, fowl, fish and meat.  All were overspiced and decorated with extra sprigs of parsley.  We lunched in the hotel restaurant on Friday, but the next day walked across the street for some real food at Arby's.  Don't knock it; Arby's has good roast beef.

This was my first full scale writer's conference and I felt certain I'd be uncovered as a fraud pretending to be a writer.  Maintaining a low profile, which is difficult when you're the only person in 300 navigating around in a wheel chair, I escaped being exposed   As I mentioned in my last posting, Gal Friday made an impressive attempt to prepare me for this event.  She did everything except kick my butt to motivate me to action, but of course to no avail.  So I sat there completely unprepared among professional agents, editors, publishers and writers.

Friday and Saturday went fairly well because all I had to do was scrunch down in my chair and listen as we attended panel discussions and workshops, but Sunday was "D Day."  Sunday morning I was scheduled to pitch my book to an editor, an agent and a publisher.  All the work Gal Friday tried to make me do in the last few months had to be crammed into a few hours the night before.  She was not a happy camper.  Our heads hit the pillows around 3 AM and I didn't sleep as I kept trying to memorize that one crucial sentence.  Which crucial sentence you may ask?  Now get this, you have to tell them what your novel is all about in one sentence.  Huh?  One sentence!  It took me six months to compose this sucker and many more months doing rewrites.

You got 10 minutes with each professional and mine came consecutively, or as my dad used to say, back to back to back.  That meant one-half hour trying to sell my manuscript to accomplished people in the publishing world expecting to hear a professional presentation.  I've made many professional presentations all over this globe and I know about butterflies in the stomach and dry mouth, but I never experienced as much pre-pitch fear as that morning.  I was damn scared about, not just being rejected, but being ashamed.  I was out of my league and I knew it.  Truthfully, I think what I dreaded the most was Gal Friday's disappointment.  She really believes I have a great talent for writing and has been my biggest supporter.  I hated letting her down.

A young lady escorted me into a large room with each interviewer sitting at a small table.  The tables filled the room.  I wheeled up to the agent, introduced myself and spit out my one-liner.  I looked into his eyes hoping to see a twinge of excitement.  His response, "That doesn't turn me on."  Oh, shit.  I could imagine this half hour could be the worst of my life.  He asked me about the plot and I mumbled something I tried to remember from Gal Friday's early morning training session.  I have no idea what I rambled about, but he ended up asking me to send him three chapters for his review.  This is a very big deal, getting an agent to ask for your work.  My 10 minutes were up so I kissed his ring and wheeled to the next table.

Then came a female editor whom I remembered well from the panel discussions and what I recalled wasn't too encouraging.  She had been very critical about the rights and wrongs of grammar, punctuation and the story's point of view.  When talking about the right way, she cast her eyes over the room but I swore when she expounded on the evils of vile wrongs, she looked straight at me.

After I popped off my hook line, she retorted,  " I like that."  I was so flustered, I couldn't get my business card out of my jacket's inside pocket.  She stood, came around the table and picked it out for me.  This was a magnanimous gesture on her part and somehow established a bond between us. Before the 10 minutes ended, she asked for the whole manuscript.  I was on cloud nine.  I kissed her feet and left.

While being escorted to the next table, I remembered he was "the deal."  I was going to sit before a publisher--actually have a publisher personally listen to my plea.  By now I was two for two and really didn't care what this guy said.  Well, that's not completely true, but my tension had eased off.  I had already accomplished much more than I ever anticipated.

As I approached, he stood to shake my hand and introduce himself.  This was a first.  This guy was a gentleman.  My tension backed off even more.  When asking about my novel, I let the one-sentence pitch roll of my tongue like it was as natural as giving birth--not by me, but by my Aunt Dorie who had 20 children.  Once again, I couldn't free my business card from my jacket and he too, stood and took my card out.  Most of the 10-minute period we spoke about hurricane Irene and before I left he asked for a sample of my work.  Three for three plus another request from an agent who had earlier critiqued the first 10 pages of the manuscript.  Four for four.  Zowie!  Later that day I talked to a published writer who kindly offered to have me send him my first 50 pages and he would forward them to his publisher.  Unbelievable.

Sandblasting couldn't get the grin off of Gal Friday's face.